All the Rarest Beasts on Earth
by Rachael K. Jones
The hungry tiger slinks round and round the space shuttle walls, stuck to its centrifugal treadmill. Perhaps it knows I am trying to help, but I doubt it. I've lacked the courage to leave the cockpit since we left Earth, but that is all about to end, because our destination is still two weeks out, and the tiger has got nothing left to eat. I've got to feed it something. Otherwise this will be one long exercise in futility.
At 82 kilograms, the tiger is just an adolescent. Its pelt alternates spotted burnt orange with black stripes, like the tiger tried out being a cheetah before settling on this nature. It's a Bali tiger, a rare creature, so rare nobody has seen one alive since 1963. I am the only one on Earth who knows it yet lives.
People form search parties when animals go extinct. Scientists and amateurs take to the woods and hunt for the pattern of claws, the ghost of silenced birdsong. But that isn't how I found my tiger. It was by accident, after my 12-year-old son's death called me back to Sydney from the Lamed-Ayin Colony of Tau Ceti months and months too late. He'd vanished one day into the wilderness when his nanny's back was turned, and they never found him.
I try not to think about how he went. I hope it was fast and clean. That he wasn't afraid at the end.
Some nights, the riddle of his missing body sends my dreams peering beneath every tilted rock and brambled black bush for signs of survival, for the slightest hint of a young runaway spying on me unawares. Stranger things have happened. In 1938, a South African fisherman resurrected the eight-finned Coelacanth from its 66 million-year extinction. Small things often escape our notice like that.